For the second time in three years, the College Football National Championship resides in Clemson, South Carolina.
The Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday 44-16.
From the beginning, the Tigers let the college football world know that they could match Alabama step-for-step. After a three-and-out on offense, Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell picked off Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and returned the interception 44 yards for a touchdown. The interception was Tagovailoa’s fifth interception of the season and put the Tigers on top 7-0.
Alabama quickly responded with a 62-yard touchdown pass when Tagovailoa connected with wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. The touchdown evened the score at 7-7 with only three minutes elapsed in game time.
Clemson answered on offense with a highlight play of their own. After modest completions to receivers Justyn Ross and Trevion Thompson, quarterback Trevor Lawrence found receiver Tee Higgins open for a 62-yard gain. Running back Travis Etienne took advantage of the Tigers’ position in the red zone with a 17-yard touchdown that put the Tigers up 14-7.
Not to be outdone, Alabama’s offense put together a resilient 10-play drive that culminated in a 1-yard rushing touchdown Hale Hentges. On the ensuing extra-point attempt that would have tied the score at 14-14, though, Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas hit one of the uprights and missed the attempt, keeping Clemson in the lead at 14-13.
That score would hold until the beginning of the second quarter where, after an 11-play drive, Alabama kicked a field goal to go up 16-14.
And then the Tigers took off.
The rest of the game was total domination for Clemson at every phase of the game. On offense, Lawrence accrued 347 passing yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Ross reeled in over half of those yards with six catches for 157 yards and a touchdown while Higgins finished the night with three catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Etienne carried the ball 14 times for 86 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching a pass of his own for a 5-yard touchdown.
On defense, the front seven was absolutely monstrous. The group was able to sack Tagovailoa twice and make seven tackles for losses. The pressure seemed to bother Tagovailoa, who did throw for 295 yards and two touchdowns, but who also threw two costly interceptions. In fact, at the end of the game, former starting quarterback Jalen Hurts was substituted into the game but was unable to generate any momentum, throwing incompletions on both of his two pass attempts. The Alabama running back committee of Najee Harris, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs were able to combine for 148 rushing yards, but none were able to find the endzone.
By the end of the game, it was clear who the best team in the country was. With the win, Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney became the only active head coach beside Alabama’s Nick Saban to win multiple championships and Clemson became the first team to go 15-0 in the College Football Playoff era.
A team can’t be the champion forever, but the way Clemson won and who they won against means they won’t be forgotten for decades to come.